Paul Simon wows critics but noise police come under fire
Fans disappointed with low volumes night after Bruce Springsteen's microphone is cut off early
PAUL SIMON performed songs from Graceland in Hyde Park last night – 25 years after the album prompted protesters to picket one of his concerts at the Royal Albert Hall.
This time around it wasn't the album that caused a storm but the volume at which Simon was allowed to perform it.
Simon unapologetically broke the cultural boycott of apartheid-era South Africa to record Graceland with local black and white musicians in Johannesburg in 1986 – causing his opponents to accuse him of political betrayal. But memories of the controversy appear to have been swept away.
"In 1987 [at the Royal Albert Hall], he didn't look as if he was enjoying himself," writes Robin Denselow in The Guardian, "which was understandable". But, last night, with no political pressure, "he actually smiled." Simon might be 70, but his voice is "still faultless", says Denselow, who called the event "surely one of the landmark concerts of his career."
Apartheid is now history, says Sarfraz Manzoor in The Daily Telegraph, and for many Graceland is "drenched in fond memories". Last night's three-hour performance was a reminder of Simon has always been a "musical magpie", he adds.
"There were those old enough to remember the furore surrounding Simon's decision to break a UN-approved cultural boycott of apartheid-era South Africa to record in the country," says David Smyth in the Evening Standard. "Then there were those, like me, for whom it meant nothing more controversial than the soundtrack to another long family car journey, and an even younger group, fresh to Graceland's zinging combination of township funk and surreal New York lyrical chatter."
But while there were huge cheers for Graceland in Hyde Park, fans and critics were left disappointed by the low volume levels. Smyth says people in the crowd could talk without raising their voices and Simon's singing was often drowned out by "the less than perfect" attempts of fans to join in.
"In a different year, this would have been a perfect headlining set for Glastonbury," says Smyth, "which has a hundred times more atmosphere and doesn't create a huge gap in the middle of the field by penning better-off ticket holders into a separate 'golden circle'."
Complaints from fans came just 24 hours after Bruce Springsteen's duet with Sir Paul McCartney was cut short by concert organisers on Saturday night. Springsteen's guitarist Steven Van Zandt lashed out on Twitter, saying: "One of the great gigs ever in my opinion. But seriously, when did England become a police state?" Even Boris Johnson said the musicians should have been allowed to play on.
According to the local council, organisers ended the concert to comply with their licence, which allows them to run until 10.30pm. Tomorrow Madonna is set to perform before 50,000 fans in her first appearance in England for four years. But she has been warned that she too will be cut off if her set overruns.
John Probyn, chief operating officer of Live Nation, which runs Hard Rock Calling and other Hyde Park concerts, told the Evening Standard today: "We'd have no choice. We are effectively breaking the law if we carry on. There's not a lot we can do."